Wednesday 11th April 2018 ko 18.00
Oxford City FA League
HEADINGTON BUTCHERS 1 (Rowbotham 80)
DORCHESTER 3 (Kay 18 Brown 46 J Lyne 58)
Att 5 at Sandy Lane Sports Ground, Oxford
By far the most common question about groundhopping I get asked is how many grounds I’ve done. It’s an obvious one, but it’s also one with little meaning, after all it’s a figure that is only really relevant to myself. There is no award, thank God, to the groundhopper with the most grounds visited. I used to celebrate each hundredth ground I visited, 900 was the Cardiff City Stadium, and the thousandth was Newbridge (on Wye) Town.
Since then those milestones have felt less and less important, but there was an unintended consequence of Honiton Town’s game on the Easter Hop being moved to Exwick Villa, a ground I’d visited before.
It meant that the first new ground I’d tick off after the hop would be ground number 2,000. An oddity of how life works out that there was a ground roughly two miles from where I live that I hadn’t ever visited and Sim, my regular travel companion over the years to the likes of Norway, Romania, Sweden and Gibraltar was playing there for Headington Butchers.
You may ask why a 2-and-a-half pitch sports grounds next door to Tesco, and near to the BMW Car Works in Cowley had somehow evaded my attention over the years? The reason is a mixture of the Oxford City League putting “Council Pitch” as the location on the FA’s Fulltime page, but there was also a touch of the whole thing being a little too easy to do! After all if you can tick off the Big Arch Stadium in Hiroshima why bother with a council pitch in Oxford?
But I’m a contrary soul, variety is the spice of life, Sim is a lovely bloke, and I’d driven past that darned ground enough times for it to irk me. So Sandy Lane was to be ground 2,000, but even then circumstances conspired to make life difficult.
A group of travellers had set up camp in the Tesco car park and broke down the fence to the football ground to graze their horses. In the time it took to get an order to remove them they’d used one goal to tether their horses to leaving the goalmouth soiled by manure, and used the pitches’ perimeter for horse races. Eventually a court order saw the travellers move on but the remaining manure in one of the goalmouths saw the game moved from Pitch 1 to Pitch 2, just before kickoff.
As far as I’m concerned there are three great real ale pubs in the Headington District of Oxford and two of them have teams in the Oxford City League. There’s Masons Arms who’ve just moved back onto Quarry Nomads’ former home, Margaret Road now that the clubhouse has been rebuilt. The Butchers Arms is tucked away in the backstreets of New Headington, a third of a mile from the infamous Headington Shark that gives the club its badge.
The Butchers have played OCFA League football for 2 years and they’ve reached the point where many of the team are well into Veteran status. They’re in a battle with a team new to the league, South Park to avoid bottom spot, and you wonder whether there’s either the will or the legs to carry on next season. Being bottom of the bottom league is tough, and you have to give credit to the Butchers for turning up each Saturday knowing full well they’ll lose more than they’ll win.
Those with longer memories will remember Dorchester from their well-presented North Berks Hop game in 2014. Mike Stimpson is still the go-to man there and they are still a club I hold in the highest regard.
They won this one, albeit rather huffing and puffing to do so, and there was no little discomfiture amongst the youthful Dorchester team at conceding a late goal. The Butchers shook their hands, shrugged their shoulders and held a quick de-brief before taking down the nets in the quickly enveloping gloom. With age comes a sense of perspective.
So there I was, watching a game, one of 5 spectators, and certainly the only one with no connection to either club. There was no rope, rail, stand, floodlights or a programme, and half-way through the second half a van from the council arrived to lock-up the changing rooms. Did the workman not realise what time a 6.00 kick off is likely to finish?
But if my football watching, and this blog has proved anything, its that my heart and soul is at football’s grassroots. Like Calvino’s Mr Palomar character I smiled, as I turned back to my car. I knew there was simply no better place to tick off my personal, yet utterly irrelevant milestone.